Facebook has recently rolled out major changes that affect personal users, with new privacy settings that allow more control over what you share -- from your profile all the way down to individual status updates. This led to a flurry of wall postings from my friends recommending that I check off a box that allows my Facebook info to be indexed by search engines and the usual amount of angst from Facebook's user community over privacy.
(Quick tip: Treat anything you post on the Internet as public, whether or not you uncheck a box.)
Less talked about are the upcoming changes Facebook will be making to fan pages -- the primary way in which brands interact with fans on the site. Michael Lazerow wrote about the changes coming down the line recently in Mediapost and it's a good compendium of what to expect, possibly as soon as the end of January.
While I won't go into every aspect of what's changing, it's instructive to look at how Facebook will be treating fan page updates in your Live Feed and News Feed tabs. Right now, if you are a fan of a page like Coca-Cola's, or L'Oreal 's, you will see any updates the brand makes on their wall in your Facebook news stream. Soon though, according to Lazerow, Facebook will begin to use a proprietary algorithm to determine how often (or if at all) you will see these fan page updates based on factors like the frequency and quality of your interactions on the fan page itself. If you haven't "thumbs-upped" brand posts or responded to them, or visited the fan page or interacted with it in some other fashion, you might not see any of their posts in your news feed at all.
In addition, fan-building activity that used to be allowed on the brand's Facebook wall such as simple contests and giveaways are being shifted to on-page applications. These applications can be really cool, allowing users to send virtual gifts, share survey results with friends, view videos and Twitter feeds, and even to give their profile pics virtual makeovers. Coming up with ideas that tie into business goals (rather than gimmicks) and figuring out how to execute them well is neither cheap nor easy, however.
Not surprisingly the impact of this change falls more heavily on smaller and medium-sized brands, which may not have the budget to outsource strategic ideation of fan page elements to an agency like mine, or to hire the skilled labor to conceive and execute them in house. Even if a brand spends money to buy fans with Facebook's on-site advertising, keeping those fans engaged on the fan page once they sign up requires ongoing work - more so once these changes go into effect.
As my colleague Austin Bryan opined, this creates a sort of "glass paywall" that limits the ability of upstart brands to grow virally on Facebook past a certain point. It un-evens the playing field.
From a Facebook user perspective, this may not be a bad thing. Raising the bar means that fan pages, no matter the size, will have to be more creative and engaging to entice fans to interact rather than being passive observers. For fans this means that pages that fail to interest you will simply disappear from your updates going forward. It also means more interesting and creative content should trump content that seems "spammy" or dull -- leading to a better Facebook environment overall.
Make no mistake though, the overall effect may be that Facebook's rich vein of users -- 100 million visitors in November alone, according to comScore - will only be able to be tapped effectively by brands with access to the most creative social media strategists.